Friday, May 28, 2021

Will Androids Dream of Electric You?

There is a writer whose name I can not remember and whose work I can not find, but I have been thinking about him a lot recently. He was not actually a writer. He was some sort of business analyst and what he did was start compiling information about his life on a blog and then each year he would put together an annual report in the style of what he did for work. 

So the final report would be like: 650 Diet Cokes, with a trend line increasing in Q3 & Q4. If I remember right, he correlated his increased trips to the gym in Q1 & Q2 with the anticipation of summer in Q3, with a steep drop off in Q4. That kind of thing. 

In one of the years he did this reporting, his father died. That was the one that I remember most, because that was when he worked on quantifying the existential. Therapist visits, moods. He tried to tried to look backward and figure out what had made his father a good father; he tried to sum it up in charts and graphs and it led him to explore the question of what it even means to live a life and how one can measure a life well lived. It was interesting work and I’ve always been peeved that I didn’t think to do it.

Man, I really need to find that guy’s stuff because it was great.

I’ve been thinking about him lately because of some stuff I’m doing at work, but also because it seems like the sort of project we should all do from time to time. We should be able to buy a workbook at Target that we just fill out, or maybe a piece of software that’s free to download from the US Census Bureau. 

I keep a journal. I call it a “bullet journal” even though I’m not one of the crazy bullet journal people (watch one of their videos on Youtube; they’re nuts) and I also write this blog (or rather, I have started writing it again) and I also keep a time log at work, just a simple spreadsheet where I track each time block of my day and make notes about what I was doing. All of this is in addition to whatever creative work I’m out putting, like the silly daily drawings I post to Instagram (@standard_kink) or the actual writing I do. Creative work, be it fiction, or photography, or painting, is always a pretty good record of where you’re at emotionally and intellectually during the period when you’re creating it. I know a lot of poets who would argue with me about that, but they can go write their own blogs for no one to read, thank you very much.

My point is simply that without meaning to holistically, I have documented my life extensively. Add into that my camera roll (I’m one of those jerks who takes pictures of interesting looking bugs and I love a well cracked window) and — let’s get Big Tech about this — my internet history and my debit card spending, and you have a pretty good sense of me as a person. Obviously this is not new thinking. Amazon and Google figured this out a long time ago, it’s the basis of their business models: by learning what a person does, you can figure out what they will want to do next. And they’re good at it. That’s why people think that Facebook is listening to them through their cell phones. The reality is that would be a less efficient way of learning about people because you’d have to sift through how they present themselves (ie: the person they want others to think they are) when it is far easier to simply watch what they do (ie: who they really are). 

If you’re not like me and creating your own documented life (which, again, I have ended up doing mostly by accident and via accumulation), then when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, the most accurate biography of you will be a long string of code living inside a server in a data warehouse owned by Amazon.

We like to think that our lives will be remembered by the loved ones we leave behind, and to a degree that is true; in bits and pieces of ever decaying memory we will live on for a generation or two. There is a novel I can’t remember the name of where when people die, they all go live in the same afterlife city until the last living person forgets about them, then they just pass out of existence entirely. They’re walking around the afterlife city and then one day *poof* they disappear because no one living remembers them anymore. I wonder how that would work with a data farm. Would it be enough if Facebook remembers you for eternity? Because we all know that Facebook never forgets.

When the computers eventually gain sentience, I wonder if they will be able to read the code of our lives and know what we were like. 

I know this post probably sounds like I’m leading up to the revelation that I’m dying, but that’s not the case. I’ve just been thinking on that tension between what we believe about ourselves and what is objectively true about the lives we lead. It’s that old chestnut about how we judge ourselves based on intention, but we judge others based on outcome. It seems like in reality, everything is outcome, but we aren’t very good at figuring out what that means. We should probably find ways to get better at that.




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